by Kevin Crowe
Standing room only. A trip to the bar's gonna take a little while, perhaps the better part of two power-pop songs, so you soldier on, pushing your way though the drunken, sweaty bodies. Your forehead begins to drip hefty beads of sweat. Your body slowly succumbs to the heat. The music relentlessly pumps through the Corner Lounge's loudspeakers. There have never been so many people here. You head to the back patio, the harsh sounds still smacking against your head.
A guitar finds a way to ring out above the clatter, all that nonsense noise, spiked on top of the fuzzed-out sheets of sound. It's crystal clear now, each note finding enough room to sing above the dense soundclash that's still resonating, pulsing in the background. The guitarman fills the air with squealing, ringing peals and heavy licks. You head back inside, following the sound, as it turns into an uncontrolled wail, a masterwork of simple rock, as if each bar had been magnified a hundredfold, opening up vast territories of possibility, ruthlessly transforming the beer-heavy crowd into a frenzied, thunderous horde. The bodies begin to push into one another, not violently, but more like a progressive knotting into, minds warped by the squealing language of the guitarman.
You're lost, in a sense. Still wondering around. Still pushing though the crowd. You keep pushing, into the eye of the storm, where you're able to stand still just for a moment. Up front, constantly in motion, the bodies keep bouncing into one another, looking for that one sweet spot, yawping together, like it's been rehearsed â.
Memories of the last two HottFests are never totally coherent. But you were there, caught up in it all.
"At the end of every one, I always say that I'm not going to do it again,â” says Don Coffey, Jr., who has been HottFest's man behind the scenes since the local-music celebration launched in 2005. â“The first year was the easiest. We only had 13 or 14 bands, which was manageable. It was the first year, so there was excitement about it. The first one's easy to do, but it's hard to keep it going.
â“But the bands still seem excited about it. If they weren't excited, I wouldn't bother.â”
Each year, the energy only seems to grow in intensity, fueled by the crowds who don't mind packing the Corner Lounge for three nights in a row. More bands are added, and this yearâ"in addition to the nighttime mayhem we've come to expectâ"there will be all-ages shows on Saturday afternoon, showcasing some of Knoxville youngest musical minds.
HottFest is slowly incorporating everything that makes local music such a special part of living in Knoxville, whether it's the beery punk rock of Speedshifter or the hyperliterate stylings of the young turks of Crabs are Scavengers.
â“I see the energy of this city as separate but together,â” says Arrison Kirby, Knoxville's own robo-rhythmic impresario who has been added to this year's lineup, playing his fresh, albeit slightly warped, kind of elecrofolk. â“There isn't one particular scene, but lots of little ones. I believe one of the keys for Knoxville to come to prominence as a truly unique hubâ"as so many people want to happenâ"is the melding of all these little scenes into one larger one.â”
â“Don Coffey is very supportive of many of these bands,â” adds Ben Oyler, lead guitarist for the Tenderhooks. â“[I]t's encouraging that he is trying to pull all of this together and create a community of working bands.
â“It seems like there are a bunch of interesting and pretty widely variant strands of music currently operating in Knoxvilleâ If we're able to find our own voice and operate according to the rules we design and believe in, we're excited.â”
The festival began humbly enough, an idea that began to incubate shortly after Coffey moved back to Knoxville in 2003 from Virginia to become general manager and sound engineer for Studio 613, which became Independent Recorders when construction of the Hall of Fame Drive extension forced the studio to move to nearby Gill Avenue. â“There's a lot of music going on in Knoxville,â” Coffey says, â“and it's really hard to keep up with it allâ. And we started talking about the idea of putting together a festival.â” And so it went, always growing into something unexpected, with nearly 30 bands slated to play the three-day festival.
â“In a perfect world,â” Kirby continues, â“I suppose that HottFest would continue beyond the death of Don Coffeyâ. Then maybe some new race would take it over, maybe bring it to another planet, and HottFest would continue beyond the end of that planet. Eventually, though, I presume HottFest would float around in space until it got sucked into a black hole. It doesn't matter, though, because I doubt many of us would be around to see itâunless we purchase some new technologically sound body parts and find a way to keep our brains alive within those new body partsâ.â”
WHO: Hottfest WHEN: Aug. 23-25: Thursday: (main stage, 9 p.m.-12 a.m.) Brendan James Wright & the Wrongs, Speedshifter, Whip! and the Tenderhooks; Thursday: (tent stage, 8:30 p.m.-12 a.m.) Quartjar and Medford's Black Record Collection; Friday: (main stage, 8 p.m.-12 a.m.) Ricksha, My Lost Cause, Cold Hands, 1220 and Mic Harrison; Friday: (tent stage, 8:30 p.m.-12 a.m.) Jeff Barbra & Sarah Pirkle and Matt Woods; Saturday: (all ages shows, 3 p.m.-6 p.m.) Crabs are Scavengers, Brother on Skates, Matgo Primo, Senryu and Arrison Kirby; Saturday: (main stage, 7 p.m.-12 a.m.) The Successful Failures, Garage Deluxe, The Cogburns, The American Plague, 500 Miles to Memphis and The High Score; Saturday: (tent stage, 6:30 p.m.-12 a.m.) Cutthroat Shamrock, Todd Steed & the Mini-Suns of Phere and Greg Horne WHERE: Corner Lounge
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